Sri Lanka – land of green colors and delicious curries

TL;DR, Sri Lanka is a beautiful lush country, rich with culture, welcoming and generous people, the most delicious food (bring on the local spice!)  and terrible traffic. Here are some photos of our 2 week trip to Sri Lanka, our first adventure in this part of the world.

When Jaap’s colleague Sudam asked us if we wanted to join him visiting his parents and his home country, we didn’t skip a beat and took him up on his offer. Thus began the planning and execution of a beautiful trip.

At the center of this trip is the warm and welcoming family of Sudam. Sujeeva and Dileepa took us in like family. Dileepa cooked us a wide variety of Sri Lankan dishes, Sujeeva had and endless supply of fresh tea and together we had many stimulating conversations. It was truly a pleasure to have Maharagma as our base camp for this 2 week trip.

The  holiday was split in 4 main parts: exploring the South coast and tea country near Galle, a family trip to the history rich North Central Province, the climb of Sri Pada and driving around hill country hunting for water falls and elephants.

Our 4 road trips on Sri Lanka
Rough outline of our road trips

Southern Province

Catching the bus from Maharagma to Galle takes you whizzing over a practically empty toll highway and grinds to a halt in the local hectic traffic of Galle. Traffic rules, who needs them? Turns out, Sri Lanka could do with them :).  But bending the rules is handy when you want to rent a car and you forgot to bring your passport and the owner is out for a holiday. The owner’s nephew was happy to vouch for us. He told us about his experiences at uni during the war over a cup of tea and tasty little Sri Lankan bananas, while we waited for the owner of the car rental place to come home. It’s all about connections in Sri Lanka. With the time we had left, we lucked into visiting the Nandana Tea Factory, a proud family business with a dapper head of the family braving pouring rain, but not the lightning, to tell us all about his garden, tea plantation, tea factory and tea tasting. A couple of hours well spend, and lots of tea to bring home as a bonus.

Back in Galle, we got in touch with our VOC roots spending the night in a former Dutch merchant house with a four-poster bed. The strong walls of the fort itself are said to have reduced the devastating impact of the 2004 Tsunami.  The difference in ambiance inside the fort (tourist city!) and outside (local life in all it’s wonderful complexity) was very stark. We were led to a beautiful spice stall, where we made some purchases so we (I mean Jaap) can try to recreate the dishes back home.

Central North Province

Next up was all the history, irrigation and Buddhism you can squeeze in a 3 day family trip. Led by Uncle, the whole family got in a mini-van for an adventure to Central North.

The practice of irrigation started centuries BCE with small village tanks. Much later, King Parākramabāhu I  of Kingdom of Polonnaruwa (1153-86) constructed further extensive irrigation systems. His most famous adage is “not even a little water that comes from the rain must flow into the ocean without being made useful to man”. We visited some of the bigger tanks (Deduruoya Reservoir, Rajangana Reservoir, Kale Wewa Reservoir). Time has not stood still though, more often than not you can see the remains of the old bunts close to location of newly erected ones.  Some very impressive engineering then and now, enough to make this engineer very happy.

Anuradhapura, the Sinhalese first capital and the center of Sri Lankan Buddhism for many centuries is famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilization. The area was uninhabited for many centuries, but the local population remained aware of the ruins. Various excavations have taken place, beginning in 1884 and continuing until current day. The amount of Buddhist temples and the remains of monasteries, baths and hospitals are amazing. Anuradhapura must have been quite a bustling center of activity back in the day when 5-10,000 monks called it home.

Sigiriya is a combination of beautiful gardens, a challenging ascent to the top of the rock, and the story of King Dhatusena and his two sons. Mogallana his youngest son by one of the most desired and finest of his queens, and Kassapa, by a less significant consort. Upon hearing that Mogallana had been declared heir to the throne, Kassapa rebelled. What happened next illustrates the importance given to water in early Sinhalese civilization. Threatened with death if he would refuse to reveal the whereabouts of the state treasure, Dhatusena agreed to show his errant son its location if he was permitted to bathe one final time in the great Kalawewa Tank, of which the construction he had overseen. Standing within the tank, Dhatusena poured its water through his hands and told Kassapa that this alone was his treasure. Kassapa, none too impressed, had his father walled up in a chamber and left him to die. Mogallana, meanwhile, vowed to return from India and reclaim his inheritance. Kassapa, making preparations for the expected invasion, constructed a new dwelling on top of the 200-metre-high Sigiriya rock – a combination of pleasure palace and indestructible fortress. It can also be seen as a dictionary definition of a golden cage.

Sri Pada

Next up was a longstanding wish of Sudam to climb Sri Pada, at the top of which a footprint mark can be found, left behind by Buddha when he visited Sri Lanka. The mountain (and footprint) is considered sacred as well by the Hindus, Muslims and Christians, so it’s a special bushwalk no matter your background. At the top a Buddhist shrine has been erected near the footprint. The preferred way to make the climb is to ascend by night to arrive in time for sunrise, after which you make your way down again. We chose the Kuruwita-Erathna trail, which is the least steep, but also the longest and most challenging trail. The 2 km climb over 12 km and the same route back again within 24 hours left us somewhat exhausted. However, the experience was quite hard to top, from the tea shops along the trail (!), the river of white faces that came up via the Hatton route after the quiet and local experience on the route we used, to the actual sunrise and “floating” shade cast by the mountain at the top. Sujeeva summed it up nicely afterwards with a well-known maxim: only a fool would never climb Sri Pada and only a fool would climb it more than once.

Udawalawe National park and Hill Country

After Sri Pada, we said goodbye to Sudam and his friend and continued our route to our very first safari ever, in National Park Udawalawe. Here you are bound to come across an few munching elephants and plenty of peacocks along the way. Next time, we would love to visit Yala National Park to hopefully see some big cats, but now we chose to explore the Hill Country instead. While Jaap was expertly maneuvering our Toyota Prius through the local traffic and over the small hill roads like the international driver he is, I was clinging to the dashboard screaming like a cheerleader. Business as usual for us, so we had a jolly good time. The many waterfalls ranged from easy to reach tourist infested water holes to beautiful sights viewed from peaceful meadows infested by leeches. In between lay many a tea plantation, coloring the landscape all shades of green.

All good things must end

Fortunately, there are plenty of good reasons to return to Sri Lanka. So many sights that still need seeing, so many provinces not yet visited. We did however manage to squeeze in a quick visit to a hand loom factory, where we got a tour and full explanation of how these full-body-workout hand loom apparatuses work. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but it looked very much like this video, including the operator ladies whom I would not like to face in a hand-wrestling competition.  Afterwards they showed me how to wear a Sri Lankan Saree and had loads of beautiful fabrics for me to choose from. I’m on a self-imposed fabric ban, but these are souvenirs :).

Sri Lankan Saree and the women who made it

 

 

 

Those Dutcheese (TM)

TL;DR: Tasmania was amazing, here are the pictures.

Almost 400 years after Abel Tasman reached Van Diemen’s land we went exploring Tasmania as well. This state may be only 1.5 times larger than the Netherlands if you measure it on a globe, the actual surface is many times more than that of our Dutch pancake (poffertje) of a home country. It’s rimmed with beautiful beaches, but harbors nothing but mountains on the inside. This caused some challenges for our non-4WD rental here and there, but the landscape is simply spectacular and different behind every corner.

We had 10 days to do a circuit, which is just about doable because of said mountains. We set ourselves a berry and sheep mission, to eat and photograph (in that order). Along the way we fulfilled both, with the help of a farmer who looked like he came straight out of Amish country and a curious sheep. But it was on Bruny Island where we finally ate all the cheeses.

Australia has some nice cheeses to offer, but somehow hasn’t mastered the art of the cheese platter, nor the chatter to go with it. Munching on the delicious cheeses of Tasmania, we came up with the alternative to our engineering life. Delicatessen shop “Those Dutcheese” (TM) will offer a small selection covering the best cheeses this world has to offer. Think a piquant Gruyere, ripe blue cheese, creamy brie, and of course old and savory Gouda cheese, to name a few. But what really sets this shop apart is the full back story for every cheese, and the advice to combine it with the right sips and bites. But the best thing, we get to eat the leftovers :).

Below the map, you can find the full trip report.2017-12 Tasmania route

The East Coast has beautiful beaches on one side, and meadows filled with cows and sheep on the other.  Along the way we’ve scuba dived with seals (Eaglehawk Neck), soaked up some history (Port Arthur), watched Little Penguins use the stairs (Pirates Bay), climbed a mountain (Wineglass Bay), ordered diner just before 8 PM (Bicheno),  left our car on the road to South Sister (St. Mary), felt at home in the dunes (St. Helens point) and looked at ocean (Bingalong Bay).

If you venture further inland, the mountains take over. Here we’ve marveled at the ability of cars to ignore gravity (Launceston), photographed the view (Brady’s Lookout), had coffee in a Lucky Luke-like saloon (Mole Creek), twinkled with the glow worms (Marakoopa cave), pretended to have a 4WD and made a campfire at James’ caravan, saw an echidna and missed a wombat (Cradle Mountain) and learned that roads with an A in their designation can still be tiny mountain roads.

The North Coast was more familiar to us Dutchies, being a bit cooler and with the sun setting almost in the water. Still plenty of beach, but a much less beach-friendly climate. Here Burnie was the highlight of disappointment, where even the Little Penguins sleep in concrete bunkers. Fortunately, Stanley was the complete opposite with its picturesque buildings and the deliciously weird Nut, which we ascended with some assistance of the chairlift, like proper old people. A trip to the Dismal Swamp (yes, we took the slide down) brought us to the West.

The West Coast holds the Edge of the World, where you can feel the full force of the roaring forties (Arthur River). From there it’s 80 km of gravel road to get to Strahan, which you need to traverse without delay to be able to catch the last ferry at Corinna at 5pm or 7pm, depending on which sign you believed. The views along the way are breathtaking, but so was the realization that the combination of a flat and no mobile reception would be a recipe for disaster. We saw 1 car and 2 motorbikes (!) on this particular stretch of road… The towns along the way show the eras when the local mining business was booming with their beautiful art-deco styles (Zeehan). The Empire hotel in Queenstown was established in 1901, with all the splendor that goes with it. However, the environmental impact of the mining boom has left the surrounding landscape barren.

Back on the South Coast we lavished in the art at MONA and looked at all the beautiful things for sale at the Salamanca markets, that we could not fit within our baggage allowance (damn you, diving gear!). From there it was a short trip to Bruny Island where, apart for the aforementioned cheeses, we also ate all the oysters (Jaap), all the chocolates (Simone) and all the berries and cherries. We ended our road trip with a visit to mount Wellington and the latest edition of Star wars. May the force of Christmas be with you, always.

Party time

Hold the presses, project settling-in-in-a-different-country has been successfully been completed: we gave our very first party!

Turning 40 was the perfect excuse to throw an Australian party the Dutch way. So we shoved the table to the side, stocked up the fridge with drinks and snacks and invited a whole bunch of people to our home. I must confess, the original plan was to throw a Dutch party the Australian way, with a barbie on the roof and perchance a dip in the pool. However, since we chose by far the wettest day of the week (dare I say month) for this affair, we had to resort to plan B.

We had the bestest of times with some lovely people we’ve met over the past two years. It was a mix of friends from the neighborhood, colleagues from 3 different organisations (the benefits of flex-desking) and of course some dear sewing friends. Due to the size of our apartment, I decided not to invite our scuba diving friends. Alas, next time!

There was much mingling going on, and even the rekindling of an old friendship. It’s such a small world we live in. All the under 18’s managed not to electrocute or maim themselves in our less than childproof home, so that was a bonus.

When we were cleaning the apartment after everybody left, we noticed we had more beer in the fridge than at the start of the party. Some true Ozzie magic right there by our friends. This of course just means we’re all set up for the next party :).

Things to do in Brissy when you’re there

Another year, another visit of my mum this time together with my sister. It was short but sweet. I had prepared a full program to show as much of the Brisbane experience as possible. So here’s my list of things to do in Brissy when you’re there.

  1. Check out West End, the coolest suburb in town. Start with a (sodium free) Kohtu at the Boundary Street markets, and meet up with some friends. If you’re lucky, you might get a birthday present, if it’s still your birthday month that is. (Thanks Leonie!)
  2. After a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast (do I hear more birthday presents? Thanks MAVS!), get yourself to the Davies Park markets, to find some groceries and the first batch of souvenirs. You might even meet some locals for a coffee (never leave home without your keep cup, you silly). Next stop is a barbie on the roof top. If you’re lucky, you imported the bestest hamburger patty there is. (Vegetarian Butcher, you are missed!) A delicious home cooked meal with produce from the markets will give you enough energy to go up Mt Coot-tha to enjoy the view by night. So many lights!
  3. By now the jetlag has settled in, so you’re ready for a serious road trip. Take a detour via mount Tambourine to get dazzled by the glow worms. On the way there you have a beautiful view of the skyline of Brisbane. But this is only a morning coffee stop, the real goal of the trip is O’Reillys at Lamington National Park. The drive up the mountain is an attraction on it’s own, but that’s only the beginning. Once you’ve arrived you can go for a bush walk in the rain forest, feed the birds and enjoy a stunning sun set with a beer in your hand. Perhaps you should take a nap during the drive home.
  4. Enough nature for now, today we traverse the city jungle. Take the City Cat to the Cube at QUT and program your own robot. If it’s good enough for the King, you might enjoy it too. Via the botanical gardens, where you can reenact somebodies interview for Dutch television, you make your way to the CBD. Here you enjoy lunch at Post Office Square food court, together with some of the hard working people from Brisbane (aka Grismar). Do not get distracted too much by the shops (more souvenirs) while moving towards the river. From here it’s an easy walk to GOMA, the museum of modern art, where you can enjoy the MARVEL exhibition. Since you’re close by, why not get your feet wet at Streets Beach on South Bank. A perfect day ends perfectly with some birthday bubbles (only if it’s still your birthday month).
  5. So much for the land life, how about the ocean in our backyard? Take the ferry to Moreton Island, where a Whale Watching tour awaits you. This is the perfect transition into the afternoon program, where we feed the fishes (involuntarily), laughing Kookaburras (beef!) and dolphins (fish, which completes the circle). Your own feed will be substandard today, but hey, you’re on a tropical island!
  6.  Today you’ll finally get wet, snorkeling on the Tangalooma wrecks. So many fishes and a wobbegong shark or two for those with a keen eye. This could be the first snorkeling experience for some, and the last for others. In any case, a memorable experience. Safely back on the main land, it’s time for a fancy birthday dinner at Billykart (only applicable if it’s still … you get the drift. Thanks dad!).
  7. Lastly, before you start the long journey home, there’s time for one last stroll down Boundary Street, to find that perfect hat at Vinnies and a last batch of souvenirs at several book stores. With a flat white under the belt, it’s time to head to the airport. And perhaps to sleep a little.

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Movie festivals and theaters

When we first arrived, it seemed the movie scene was on the decline in Brissy. That might be the case, but since then we’ve found our way to a few awesome cinemas and have become regulars at some festivals. Things ain’t that bad after all.

Recently, we’ve visited the Queensland Film Festival at New Farm Cinemas (13-23 July) and the BIFF, or Brisbane International Film Festival (17 Aug – 3 Sept), where we saw a couple of flics, each well worth your time. Thanks to the curators of both festivals and the careful further selection by Grismar.

  • Antiporno, about…, ehrm, let me get back to you on that one
  • The Endless, about cult life and brotherhood
  • Goodtime, about anything but a good time after a bank robbery
  • Nocturama, about the fine (or not so fine line) between activism and terrorism
  • The Lure, a modern fairy tale of two mermaid sisters
  • Loving Vincent, an animated movie made with more than 65,000 oil paintings
  • The Square, where high culture and animal instinct come together
  • Dave made a maze, about Dave, who made a labyrinth. (how about instead of trying to diminish it, you guys help me finish it?)
  • Manifesto, in which Cate Blanchett writes a manifest

The movie theaters we visit, somewhat in order of frequency:

  • Palace Barracks, walking distance and room for more art housey movies
  • GOMA Cinémathèque, walking distance and excellent programming, varying from the artiest of house to the complete Marvel collection. Only downside is movies show often only once and their website is hard to navigate so we miss a lot.
  • Cineplex South Banks, closest and cheapest, perfect place to see a block buster
  • New Farm Cinemas, a short bus ride away, great selection and atmosphere
  • Palace Centro, a bit further out (bus ride and short walk), but has a nice burger joint next door for dinner afterwards, and they often host festivals

Red carpet challenge

Sometimes all you need is good challenge to grow your skills and nerves. One of the lovely Brisbane Spoolettes posed the red carpet challenge: recreate a dress from the Oscars red carpet (February) for this years Frocktails (August). The idea was to make a somewhat more challenging project for a special event, stretching your skills. After going through all the dresses with the HB, there was a clear winner for me: Emma Stone in her golden flapper dress, adding a 21st century twist to this twenties gem. Now to find a pattern to use as the basis and of course the fabric. A very lucky trip to the fabric store Jan Sikkens in my hometown, together with my personal shopper and mum got me all those things. Which is a thing that never happens. Seriously.

With all these good vibes, it was time to get to business. The bodice needed to be closely fitted, so after making changes to the toile and copying those to the pattern pieces, I decided to make another toile to make sure the pattern now had just the right fit. A quick test with a pinned rectangular piece of fabric showed that the flapper part of the dress would be pretty straight forward. Of course, I broke my wrist somewhere in the process, so I had to postpone this project for 6 weeks. Good thing I started early! More details below the pics.

For the full photographic experience and the end result, go to Google Photos. Here’s a quick impression of the project:

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On to the real thing, the cutting of the fabric. Fortunately, the main fabric was very wide and I bought plenty, so I could hunt for the perfect pattern placement. Like, not getting a bare bottom print on my belly… And then the fun of pattern matching at the seams. Step by step this dress was getting together. The sewing bit was not that hard, especially since I already made the pattern twice :). I only had to redo one seem to get a better pattern matching at the zipper. Speaking of which, I was quite relieved when this actually closed. With such a close fitted pattern there’s no way of telling if it will fit until you’ve put the zipper in!

Next stop the skirt. The pattern is as easy as it gets, however to make it flap it requires you add 18 m of tassels. Straight. On a shiny fabric, which I feared would emphasize the stitches. On to the University of YouTube, where I learned to just do it and to start at the bottom. This was a disaster, crooked stitches, just a nightmare. But my lovely spoolettes came to the rescue in helping me locate EZ-Steam II on a Sunday (aka 2-sided fusible tape). A quick trip to Spotties later I got to work with the help of a drafting triangle, a long ruler and my trusty dive weights. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, but it still takes a few hours because of the 18 m.

Thanks to Ekka day (i.e. a random free Wednesday in the week before Frocktails) I even had time to spare to make a purse, since I wasn’t able to sneak some pockets into this one. And for shits and giggles I also added a twenties style headband and tassel earrings (the latter which I didn’t wear). Outfit completed. I must admit I was quite pleased with the result and had a great time at Frocktails. The dress even hold up when we went dancing afterward. Thanks Spoolettes, for keeping me on my toes.

Top part of the dress is this Burda Style Trumpet gown: http://www.burdastyle.com/…/patterns/trumpet-gown-032017
Knot bag: https://za.pinterest.com/pin/382524562086233903/

 

Out back in the outback

Every disadvantage has its advantage. I’ve been promoting this idiom among my Australian friends, and recent events have once again proven the wisdom of the one and only Johan Cruyff. Yes, bad luck led to a broken wrist and two cancelled holidays. But it also prompted my dear friend Mellini to organize a camping trip in Lamington National Park, to “give me something to look forward to”. And it allowed us to join my colleague Dave on his trip out there and back again, which turned out to be quite the adventure. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good….

Lamington National Park

Home of the regent bowerbird, know for their courting ritual, Lamington National Park is a paradise for bird lovers and bushwalkers alike. The drive there is beautiful, since you spend the last hour on a spiraling mountain road which offers plenty of panoramic views. After the quaint Treetop Walk it was time to enjoy the sunset and a nice glass of wine from O’Reilly’s Rainforest bar.

We went camping with a bunch of pros, so after a morning concert of the birds, a proper brekkie was served. A good foundation for a decent walk along the Box Forest Circuit, filled with waterfalls and some creek crossings. On Monday we had time for a nice and easy walk to Python Rock, from where you can marvel at the valley from a different point of view.

For the full photographic experience of Lamington Park:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/SbvKwKhMSV6DluYA2

A quick impression:

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Noorama Station, 1 hour south of Cunnamulla and 9 hours west of Brisbane

Renowned for its sheep, wool and cattle production, Noorama Station is situated in one of the most prolific pastoral regions in the country. Don’t just take my word for it, read all about it in this brochure. The current manager is Ben, a good friend from my colleague Dave. Ben asked Dave to escort him and his new bike home from Brisbane, and Dave in turn asked us to do the same for him on the way back. So off we went, on three bikes and one support car filled with a water tank, spare fuel, snacks and a one-handed lady. Thank the engineers for automatic transmission!

The trip was spectacular and the scenery amazing. But since it’s kind of hard to drive one-handed while taking pictures, you’ll mostly have to take my word for it.

Our one full day at Noorama Station was action packed from start to finish. We “helped” Ben and his team of jackaroos herd cows with a spotter plane and dirt bikes. Closer to home we “helped” Carissa and Owen take care of the chickens and vegetable garden. After a second breakfast we had a leisurely walk around the block through the bush, having a taste of saltbush along the way. By then it was time to pay our way by offering some actual help. In keeping with our expertise Jaap fixed the wifi and I sewed (made a start with) some curtains for Annabel’s room. As one does in the outback. After a long day of hard work, we took some us-time in the local spa, i.e. two hot tubs next to a warm water bore in the middle of nowhere (even relatively speaking), surrounded by trees with parrots. We were back just in time to enjoy an amazing sunset and another delicious meal by Carissa. Day well spent!

For the full photographic experience:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/I8G050NyE5h9G1qi2

Some highlights, in case you’re in a rush:

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